The more exposure I gain to foster care, the more I realize how many widely held misconceptions exist about foster care. Whether about the purpose of foster care, who foster kids are, or the needs within the community, these misconceptions tend to keep people at a distance, leading to inaction. So, what is foster care, and which children are affected? With a solid understanding of the answers to these questions, we can then move forward to look at what you can do to help the foster care community.
What Is Foster Care?
Foster care is temporary care for children whose parents, for a variety of reasons, are unable to care for them. The ideal foster care scenario is trauma-informed care for children while parents receive targeted support services that equip them with the tools needed to provide adequate care. The initial goal is always family preservation unless and until it becomes clear reunification is not in the child’s best interest.
Who Are These Kids?
Foster children and youth are victims of abuse and/or neglect. They are normal kids who, by no fault of their own, have endured traumatic circumstances — and as a result have been ripped away from all they’ve ever known. They are smart, sweet, and funny. They are valuable. Texas Region 3, which includes Tarrant and several surrounding counties, saw 4,463 removals in 2018 — the most of any region in the state. These are our neighbors’ kids and our kids’ classmates. Also of note, 266 youth in Region 3 aged out of foster care last year. Upon exiting state care, most foster youth lose their entire support system, and one in five becomes instantly homeless.
How You Can Help
There are countless ways to help care for foster children and youth, from one-time donations to long-term commitments. These six ideas are just a few ways you can get involved.
- Donate to or volunteer at a foster closet. Foster closets can be lifesavers for foster parents accepting emergency placements. Children often come into care with nothing but the clothing on their backs. Contact a local closet to find out if they are in need of any items you’re clearing out, or if they need help sorting and organizing donations.
- Partner with Foster Care to Success or get involved with local organizations that aid foster youth as they transition to adulthood from foster care. The deck is stacked against youth who age out of foster care, and they lack the support most of us have when we leave home for the first time.
- Become a CASA volunteer. Court Appointed Special Advocates are assigned to act as fact-finders for the judge and to speak in court for the best interest of the child.
- Join a foster family’s tribe. Foster families NEED excellent support systems. If you have friends who foster, they undoubtedly need your support. It might look like bringing the occasional meal, getting approved to babysit, coffee dates, sanity check-ins, or something else. Insist on helping, and ask what they need.
- Get licensed for respite. At times, foster children are not permitted to travel with their foster family or foster families need a night off. As a licensed respite provider, you would be stepping in to fill the need for short-term care. You choose when to say yes or no to a respite situation. This is also a great way to get your feet wet if you are considering full-time foster parenting.
- Become a foster parent. Start doing your research. Select an agency and get licensed as a foster parent. There is always a need for more foster parents, particularly those willing to take in older children and teenagers. It just may be the hardest, best thing you’ll ever do.